Over the course of the season, the Red Bulls organization tinkered with a mix of USL professionals, MLS loanees, and amateur academy players. Like the seven other MLS reserve sides participating in the 2015 USL season, New York sought to strike their own balance of development and competitiveness.
These two teams last met just a week and a half ago on September 19. That game ended 3-2 in favor of the Rhinos after New York equalized in stoppage time and Sean Totsch scored the game-winner with the last touch of the game.
Several players on MLS contracts have been solid pieces for the Red Bulls' USL side. Expect all of these players to start and play significant roles in the second round playoff game against the Rhinos.
Leo Stolz has played exclusively in the USL this season. He has 22 starts for NYRB II with 4 goals and 2 assists. Stolz, lauded ahead of the MLS SuperDraft this year, has been important for the fluid 4-3-3 that coach John Wolyniec has employed.
Manolo Sanchez is another player who's seen a majority of his time in the USL this year, though he does have 22 minutes across three cameo appearances in MLS. With the reserve side he has 21 starts, 22 appearances, four goals, and an assist.
Shawn McLaws is a mainstay in the back for NYRB II without seeing the field for the first team. McLaws has started 21 games and grabbed a goal in the USL.
Santiago Castano played in 21 games for NYRB II and is the likely starter even though Rafael Diaz played against the Rhinos last week.
Marius Obekop has been an enigmatic player over his three seasons in New Jersey. He's only featured for 114 minutes of regulation in MLS but has been much more successful playing at a lower level. Obekop has 17 starts, 20 appearances, six goals, and three assists in USL. He was instrumental against the Rhinos in Rochester last week scoring a goal and setting up Stefano Bonomo for the late would-be-equalizer.
Sean Davis played the 5 game minimum to establish his eligibility for the USL playoffs and started for the team against Pittsburgh. While his 350 minutes in MLS this year aren't very impressive, Davis was able to register an assist in that time and will be a welcome addition for Wolyniec's side.
Anatole Abang is also eligible to play this weekend having reached the 5 game minimum. He has 392 minutes this season in MLS, coming off the bench 14 times. If he joins NYRB II, he'll be an immediate impact player.
Anthony Wallace started 6 games for the team is may play against the Rhinos. The fullback filled in during a depth-challenging stretch over the summer and has started 6 games in MLS this season. Wallace was not in the USL matchday squad against Pittsburgh but was fit enough for the bench in the MLS match against Portland on September 20.
Players who won't feature on the weekend:
Karl Ouimette was the star of the team's first round playoff win but will not be playing against Rochester per a report by Empire of Soccer. The Canadian defender has 7 starts for the first team and Jesse Marsch will call upon him this weekend.
Exciting attacker Derrick Etienne has left the team to join the University of Virginia for the NCAA season. Juan Sebastian Sanchez has also gone off to the University of Tulsa and defender Marcello Borges is at the University of Michigan.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste played in 10 games for the USL team, including one in Rochester, but was waived by the Red Bulls on June 26.
Ronald Zubar, Roy Miller, and Connor Lade all featured for NYRB II over the course of the season but none of them met the minimum appearance requirement.
The absence of Karl Ouimette is good news for Rochester, both in attack and defending set pieces. Marius Obekop possesses the explosive attacking ability to trouble the Rhinos again and the addition of Anatole Abang might push the MLS reserve side over the edge.
The Rochester Rhinos faced a "2" team in the playoffs last year when they lost to LA Galaxy 2. Ahead of that game, head coach Bob Lilley said that aside from Landon Donovan he wasn't worried about what players came down on loan because he was focused on getting his players to perform to their abilities regardless of opponent.
With more regular starters on the field this weekend for Rochester, expect more careful possession in midfield and more movement up top. The young Red Bulls squad will be hungry, however, and have attacking weapons that can punish any arrogance in the hosts.